A White Woman Writing Black History

A reader has asked me by what lights should I, a white woman, be writing about Afro-Americans, slavery in particular.  Once I get all of the flip answers out of my system, what it comes down to is that people do not need to actually experience an injustice to feel its sting. Were there not white Freedom Riders during the 1960s Civil Rights movement? But I want to take the question seriously, so let me back up for a more personal accounting.

I’m a Southerner, born and bred, and I was a teenager and young adult in the 1960s. I remember segregation. Separate rest rooms, water fountains, buses, schools.

My parents were Southerners as were their parents back for many generations, but somehow my mother and father were not infected with racism. They had siblings who were certainly racist and proud to proclaim that fact, but not Mom and Dad. They also did not much mention the Civil Rights Movement nor Martin Luther King, Jr. We didn’t have meaningful discussions at our house; it was mostly, did you get your homework done kind of conversations.

Maybe it’s true that any young person not indoctrinated with hate will have a keen sense of justice. I hope so. At any rate, I remember walking down the sidewalk and realizing that my attempt to demonstrate fair-mindedness by nodding at or making eye-contact with black people was not welcome. And at it last occurred to me that for a black man to make eye-contact with a white girl on the sidewalk was foolish. Why should he risk trouble just to assuage my liberal conscience? And for black women — why would any black person bother with me? That was a humbling moment of attitude adjustment.

I write about slavery as a way to explore injustice, not because I have experienced racial prejudice. As a woman, I have certainly been stung by sexism, but that’s not the point here. I could write about poverty or ageism or sexism or homophobia or any of the many injustices that surround us. Certainly the sex trade of today is a howling injustice, but I know very little about it. I have not been touched by it. Racism, however, has touched me. I’ve seen it first-hand even if I have not been subjected to it myself, and I have been appalled. Most any Southerner my age could give you accounts of specific moments witnessing injustice, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. They are painful moments, and I’m trying to be in think mode, not feeling mode at the moment.

As a writer, I’m keen to explore what makes us human, and being hurt and oppressed, as well as being ugly and cruel, is also human. I want to know how it feels to be cruelly treated and yet endure, and I want to know what it feels like to be a person who could treat someone else cruelly. Writing is perhaps a way for me to exorcise feelings of guilt for being white in a racist society, but I believe it is more about examining humanity. We have done this to our fellows, and I want it understood. The way I find most satisfying and the way I am most able to share my thoughts is through imagination, fiction, and I believe that is how many readers enter the realm of not-me and come away with a deeper understanding of who they – and we — are.

I’ve written five books about African Americans and a few about other things. I may do one more, carrying my saga’s families into Reconstruction, or maybe I’ve said all I want to on the subject. But I do know that empathy is a powerful tool in countering any kind of injustice.

About glcraig

Gretchen Craig’s lush, sweeping tales deliver edgy, compelling characters who test the boundaries of integrity, strength, and love. Told with sensitivity, the novels realistically portray the raw suffering of people in times of great upheaval. Gretchen was born and raised in Florida. She’s lived in climates and terrain as diverse as the white beaches of the Gulf Coast, the rocky shores of Maine, and the dusty plains of Texas. Her awareness of place imbues every page with the smell of the bayous of Louisiana, the taste of gumbo in New Orleans, or the grit of a desert storm. Rich in compelling characters and historical detail, Always and Forever is a sweeping saga of Josie and Cleo, mistress and slave. Amid Cajuns and Creoles, the bonds between these two remarkable women are tested by prejudice, tragedy, and passion for one extraordinary man. Gretchen’s first novel won the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence for Mainstream with Romantic Elements and was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in the Historical Novel Society reviews. Ever My Love, winner of the Booksellers Best Award from the Greater Detroit Romance Writers of America, continues the story of Cleo and Josie’s families, of their struggle for principle, justice, and love in a world where the underpinnings of the plantation culture are crumbling. Crimson Sky, inspired by the pueblos, mountains, and deserts of New Mexico, evokes the lives of people facing neighboring marauders and drought. Now the march of Spanish Conquistadors up the Rio Grande threatens their homeland, their culture, and their entire belief system.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A White Woman Writing Black History

  1. Brigitte`Antoinette says:

    Did I tell you what my white boyfriends mother shouted at me as she drove down my street, as I stood outside my sidewalk? “You black nigger bitch!” (Later I married her son, and she even attended the wedding, but I don’t ever remember her apologizing)
    I don’t have the desire to write stories, but I enjoy reading what others like you write, so keep writing, please! Brigitte`Antoinette.

  2. Brigitte`Antoinette says:

    Gretchen, homophobia is not an ism! It is not the same as being gifted by God with color variations, or the gift of woman to man. (Eve having been formed from Adams rib) Homosexuality is an abomination, a flaw like the twisted nature of serial rapists, or serial murderers, or pedophilia! It is a horror that came from Adam and Eve’s sin, passed on to some people. A flaw that should be controlled, like addiction.

    • glcraig says:

      Brigitte, we’ll have to agree to disagree about homosexuality.

      • Brigitte`Antoinette says:

        Think on this then . Why were we told by our Creator not to engage in immortality, sexual activities outside of marriage. And he told us what a marriage looks like by saying to Adam and Eve to fill the earth, with their offspring. And he said, a man would leave his father and his mother, and stick to his wife and the two would become one flesh. Since Eve shared parts of Adam, they were literally of one flesh. Anything else, outside of this design, is condemned by God, and was shaped by men for selfish motives. Two women could not have filled the earth! Two men could not have filled the earth!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s